Spaghetti Bolognese

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This post came about in a funny way. My virtual food blogger sister-friend Linda Duffin, of the impressive blog Mrs. Portly’s Kitchen and I were commenting back and forth one day discussing the cooking of our mothers.

Linda wrote, “And don’t get me started on her spag bol.” Now, Linda is British, and I’ve spent many months-worth of time in the UK, or whatever it’s called now, and I have always tried local specialties in the various countries, whether Cullen Skink, Bedfordshire Clanger or, my favorite – Spotted Dick. But I’d never heard of Spag Bol.

Linda, probably thinking I’m an unsophisticated daftie, explained that spag bol was simply short for Spaghetti Bolognese. Of course.

Which then got me thinking that I’ve never made spaghetti bolognese in all of my years cooking. The cookbook I immediately grabbed, was Giuliani Buglialli’s Buglialli on Pasta, published in 1988.

Buglialli is so strictly Italian, and he’s so familiar with Italy’s regional cooking, that I knew he would be the proper resource. When I call him strict, I’m not kidding. He practically yells at you from the pages of his cookbooks if you dare grab a chunk of Parmesan.

“One should not indiscriminately sprinkle Parmigiano over everything if all dishes are not to melt into an unappealing sameness.”


On his research in studying and documenting authentic Italian recipes: “Arriving at an authentic version of a recipe with a long tradition requires work. The dish as prepared at one regional restaurant or by one family from an area is not necessarily an authentic version of that region’s preparation. It is important to compare many different sources, printed and oral, especially the oldest available ones. But let us not forget that even some Italian grandmothers are poor cooks.”

I find him really entertaining, and I love his passion. And there it was, in the cookbook, Tagliatelle al Ragu alla Bolognese.

“The famous Bolognese ragu is one of several meat sauces and the most popular. Its distinctive features are the sautéing of the meat together with the aromatic chopped vegetables, the omission of garlic, the combination of snipped, chopped, or ground beef and pork, the use of white rather than red wine, and the use of heavy cream.”

Furthermore: “I should like to remind once again that pasta with meat sauce is not automatically alla bolognese. Only those pastas specifically using a Bolognese meat sauce are such; the many employing such sauces from other regions would never be considered alla bolognese.”

I looked online for any recent information on Buglialli, and did find his website, called Buglialli Foods of Italy, and under his cooking courses, held at his farmhouse in Tuscany, none are listed beyond 2015. If he is still alive, it’s estimated that Buglialli is approximately 80 years old. Seems like his date of birth was always kept a secret.

Ragu Alla Bolognese
printable recipe below

1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 large stalk celery
3 ounces pancetta, cut into cubes
6 ounces lean boneless beef, in cubes
6 ounces boneless pork, in cubes
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup lukewarm beef broth
3/4 cup heavy cream

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery.

Coarsely grind the pancetta, beef, and pork all together in a meat grinder. (I used my food processor.)

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy, flameproof casserole over medium heat. When the oil mixture is warm, add the chopped vegetables and ground meats, and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill, using the disc wth smallest holes, into a glass bowl.

Add the wine to the casserole and let it evaporate for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.


Then add the broth. Cover the casserole and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Add the cream, mix very well, lower the heat, and reduce for 20 minutes; for the last 5 minutes, remove the lid.


Remove the sauce from the heat and let rest until cool, about 1 hour.

Tagliatelle Al Ragu Alla Bolognese, from Bologna

Cook the pasta according to package directions, although Buglialli suggests fresh tagliatelle. (I used pappardelle.)

Place 4 tablespoons of sweet butter in serving bowl; add a little boiling water to melt the butter.

When ready, drain the pasta, transfer to the serving bowl, and mix well with the melted butter.

Pour the sauce all over, mix and serve immediately.

Pass freshly grated Parmigiano cheese at the table.

This ragu is fabulous. If you close your eyes, it’s like you’re eating blended lasagna!

My only regret is not making a quadruple batch of this lucious sauce.

 

Pipérade

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My mother could cook just about anything. I never realized she was so talented until I was older, of course. And it wasn’t always about what she learned from cookbooks, there were also the recipes she just knew instinctively. It’s sort of like why French women are all talented cooks. Why is that?!!

For example, I remember once as a kid asking my mother if she’d make me peach dumplings. She made them, no recipe, and they were incredible. I’d have to look up a recipe for peach dumplings, and I’ve been cooking for 40+ years.

Thirty-five years ago my husband and I took my mother out to a French restaurant when she was visiting us in Houston, Texas. It didn’t go so well, mostly because of the flying cockroach. She ordered Oeufs à la Neige for dessert and disliked it. “I’ll make it for you and you’ll see what it’s supposed to taste like.”

The next day at our house, she made Oeufs à la Neige without a recipe, and it was better than the restaurant’s. When I made it for this blog, I used a recipe.

The other day I was thinking about breakfasts growing up. Let me just say that there was no cold cereal at my house. Maybe when I was 11 I discovered my friends ate Cocoa Krispies and Cocoa Puffs at their houses, and I was a bit jealous. But I also knew that my breakfasts were wonderful. Even a humble bowl of oatmeal was served with butter and cream.

My mother was a whiz at eggs. She had chickens, so we had beautiful eggs – blue, green, beige, and white eggs. Even duck eggs.

Occasionally my mother would make an omelet-like pipérade. I grew up never knowing it was a real recipe, but it is, originating from the Basque corner of France (thanks, Google.) Mom was from the Northeastern corner of France, so she must have discovered this recipe in a cookbook along the way.

What makes this egg dish somewhat different from your basic omelet choices are the vegetables and ham, and no cheese. Here I will try to duplicate her recipe.

Piperade

6 eggs, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 ounces butter
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 ripe Roma-style tomatoes, chopped, seeded, or equivalent
1/2 teaspoon piment d’Espelette
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces Prosciutto, chiffonaded
Chopped parsley
Chopped basil

Beat the eggs and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Heat the butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the green pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. It should be soft and not browned.

Stir in the shallots and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes, preventing any browning.

Add the tomatoes, adjust the heat if necessary, and cook off any liquid in the pan.

Add the piment and stir into the tomato mixture. Set the pan aside.

In a separate skillet, I used my cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat, and when hot, gently “sear” the ham. Remove from the skillet onto paper towels.

Reheat the same skillet over medium-low heat; you shouldn’t have to add more oil. Add the eggs, and gently move the eggs around and away from the sides with a spatula as if you’re making scrambled eggs.

Remove from the heat when the eggs are still soft, and spread the tomato mixture over the top. Then add the ham, parsley, and basil.

It was really tempting to not also serve crème fraiche with the pipérade.

But I added more piment and black pepper.

In reality there’s nothing exceptional about these eggs, but the dish is fabulous for breakfast, lunch, or brunch.

Just look at these soft eggs and all of the lovely vegetables and herbs.

Avocado on Grilled Bread

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In 2012, my husband and I were visiting my daughter in London and we went out for breakfast. This is what my daughter ordered.

I took a photo of it because that’s always what I’ve done, even before blogging. It was just so pretty: mashed avocado spread on grilled bread, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and feta cheese. My introduction to avocado toast.

So although slow to embrace food trends, like zoodles and cauliflower rice, I decided to (FINALLY) make avocado toast. It’s not like I knew it wouldn’t be wonderful! Avocados are one of my favorite foods.

Too bad I’m not super artistic, or I could jump on another trend and create art from avocados…

Here’s how I made mine.

Avocado on Grilled Bread

4 tablespoons oil, I used walnut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Few sprigs of thyme
6 slices good bread, like Ciabatta
2 ripe but not over-ripe avocados
Fresh tomato slices
Salt
Pepper
Goat cheese
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Warm the olive oil in a butter warmer with the garlic and thyme. Do not let the garlic brown or burn.

Heat a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly brush the slices of bread with the garlic oil, and grill the bread face-down until browned. Place them on a serving plate and set aside.

Peel and de-pit the avocados. Scoop out the flesh and place in a medium bowl. Mash with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Only prepare the avocado right before serving.

To prepare the “toasts,” spread some of the mashed avocado on the grilled breads and smooth the tops.

Add sliced tomatoes, followed by a generous amount of crumbled goat cheese.

Drizzle the remaining garlic and thyme oil over the avocado toasts and serve immediately.

These are not only for breakfast or a snack or lunch. I can see these served as an hors d’oeuvres with some champagne or rosé!

Alternatively, oven roast small tomatoes in a gratin pan.

Or, use sun-dried tomatoes. It’s all wonderful!

If more protein is desired, one can always add an egg, or some smoked salmon. But I like the simplicity of this preparation.

Do not use inferior bread for these toasts. Use a ciabatta, sourdough, or a hearty multigrain.

These avocado toasts were honestly outstanding. If you love avocado, tomatoes, and feta, then you’ll love these too. Of course, you’ve probably made them already because you’re not stubborn! But I have to say that the garlic and thyme-infused walnut oil was a fantastic addition.

Chicken Paillard

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Avec Eric is a PBS TV show in the United States. It features the Eric Ripert, co-owner and executive chef of Le Bernardin in NYC – still one of the most highly rated restaurants in NYC.

The show involves a visit to a part of the world, talking to fishermen or farmers or chefs. From his travels he gains inspiration and the shows end with Mr. Ripert preparing a dish influenced by what he saw, tasted, and learned.

Sometimes, for me, he is hard to understand because of his pretty heavy French accent. I shouldn’t really comment because my French is terrible, and at least Mr. Ripert is bi-lingual. But what really comes across in Avec Eric is his love of all things food and wine, and his perfectionism. And he seems like a really nice man.

What does make me laugh is that he’s best friends with Anthony Bourdain. Can you imagine a more opposite pairing of people?!!!

In any case, the recipe I’m posting today is based on one I saw Mr. Ripert make at the end of his show, after he visited Chianti, Italy, to witness olive oil production.

The recipe has many ingredients, and I’ve even left a few out. But the flavors and textures are fantastic.
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Chicken Paillard
Based on Eric Ripert’s recipe, to serve 1

2 tablespoons white raisins
2 tablespoons vincotto
2-3 small ripe tomatoes
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Sliced green olives
Capers
Olive oil
1 breast chicken
Salt, pepper
Dried thyme
Pine nuts
Chiffonade of basil
Lemon

Soak the raisins in the vincotto, warmed slightly, and set aside.
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Set the oven on 450 degrees.

De-seed and finally chop the tomatoes and place in a small bowl. Add the shallot and garlic, and olives and capers according to your taste. Season with salt and pepper, stir well, and set aside.
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Pour a little olive oil in a small baking dish.

Slice the chicken breast horizontally, without cutting all the way through, so as to butterfly it. Place it in the baking dish and season with salt and pepper.

Add the raisins and vincotto to the tomato mixture along with a little dried thyme.


Stir well, then spoon the mixture on top of the chicken.
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Sprinkle on a few pine nuts and drizzle with a little olive oil
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Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then turn off the oven but keep the skillet in the oven 5 more minutes.
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Immediately place the paillard on a plate. Drizzle the liquid from the baking dish over the chicken.
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But we’re not done yet. Sprinkle on the basil and add a squeeze of lemon, and then serve!

Cooked this way, the tomato mixture caramelizes with the high heat, but the chicken remains moist.
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Because it’s still summer where I live and I was able to use wonderfully ripe tomatoes, I celebrated this dish along with rosé.
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This recipe than be doubled or quadrupled.

Sriracha Gazpacho

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During the years my younger daughter lived in London, I “smuggled” Sriracha sauce in my suitcase for her at every visit. It just wasn’t a product she could find in London. I always double-bagged the 28-ounce plastic bottle with sealable bags. Can you imagine if 28 ounces of hot sauce exploded in your suitcase?!!


On Amazon.com, the 28-ounce bottle of Sriracha can be purchased for $3.74. And imagine how long that bottle will last? Well, everyone except for my daughter who puts it on everything, any time of day. It’s an inexpensive addiction, at least.

My mother recently sent me The Sriracha Cookbook just for fun! The author is Chef Randy Clemens, and his book was published in 2011.

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In the introduction, Chef Clemens tells the lengthy story of the over 30-year history of this now ubiquitous “rooster” sauce. It was originally a Thai product. David Tran, born in Vietnam of Chinese decent, brought it to American after being forcibly moved for political reasons. Once settled in Chinatown in Los Angeles, he started Huy Fong Foods, and in 1983 created Tu’o’ng Ó’t Sriracha. The familiar rooster on the squeeze bottle represents the year of Tran’s birth on the Chinese zodiac.

Being that Sriracha is more of a seasoning than an ingredient, I was a little skeptical about the originality of the cookbook’s recipes. I mean, I think we’ve all squirted some Sriracha into mayo or pho for some zing. But the recipes are overall unique, and definitely embrace spicy foods, which my whole family enjoys – especially my Sriracha addict!

I chose to make a spicy Sriracha Gazpacho from the cookbook.

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Sriracha Gazpacho
from The Sriracha Cookbook

6 large beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1/2 red onion, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 stalks celery, diced
3 Persian cucumbers, diced
2 small jalapeños, seeded and minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup Sriracha, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado, thinly sliced, for garnish
2 green onions, white and green parts, sliced diagonally, for garnish.

Puree the tomatoes in a food mill, blender, or food processor. (I used a food mill and didn’t peel and seed the tomatoes first.)

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In a large nonreactive mixing bowl, combine the puree with the onion, yellow and green bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, jalapeños, garlic, parsley, cilantro, Sriracha, lemon juice, and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until ready to use, to allow the flavors to marry.

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Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with the avocado slices and a squiggle of Sriracha.

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Top with the green onions, and finish it off with a friendly drizzle of olive oil.

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note 1: I made a smaller batch, but I respected the ratio of ingredients.

note 2: I used a regular cucumber, de-seeded.
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note 3: I used lime juice instead of lemon juice.

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note 4: I didn’t use a green bell pepper because I am not fond of them.

verdict: I absolutely loved this gazpacho! Even the next day it was delicious. The whole soup could easily be made in a food processor, but I decided I liked the texture of the bits of vegetables. Next time I wouldn’t change a thing!

A Summer Salad with Grilled Halloumi

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Halloumi is an interesting cheese that hails from Greece, or Cypress, more specifically. It has a unique, almost rubbery-dense texture, and a salty flavor. I sometimes wonder why I enjoy it!

My favorite cheeses are by far softer cheeses, especially Époisses, Reblochon, Raclette, Saint Felicien, and Brie, which all are French and cow’s milk-based.

But being an equal opportunity cheese lover, I embrace all cheeses, no matter the hardness and the milk source. My only exception is Casu Marzu, a cheese I refused to eat when in Corsica. Funny story if you’re not squeamish.

Haloumi was originally made from goat and sheep milk, but the only one I can find locally is made with cows’ milk. The cheese is unique in that it has a high melting point, so it can be grilled or even fried, without the cheese melting.

Halloumi has many different names, including grilling cheese, bread cheese, Leipäjuusto, and Finish Squeaky cheese. No matter the name, they are all a semi-hard, unripened brined cheeses.

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When making salads during the summer months, my go-to cheese is feta. It’s flavorful and goes so well with vegetables and vinaigrettes.

But adding Halloumi to a salad goes beyond crumbling some cheese on top of a salad. It’s so meaty in texture that it’s almost like a meat substitute.

For today’s salad, I used simple salad ingredients, grilled Halloumi, and a parsley vinaigrette.

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I began by adding some mixed greens, grated carrots, quartered tomatoes and toasted pine nuts to two plates. There were some sliced sweet chile peppers saved for serving time.

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The parsley vinaigrette was made with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, salt, and as much flat-leafed parsley that I could shove into the little blender!

To prepare the cheese, I heated a grill over high heat, brushed with a small amount of olive oil. I sliced the 10 ounce slab of cheese horizontally, then in to 12 pieces. I placed the slices of cheese in the hot grill, and as soon as they warmed and had grill stripes, I placed the slices on the salads.

I topped the salads with the chile pepper slices and served the salads while the cheese was still warm.

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The parsley vinaigrette added freshness to the salad, without overpowering the mild-flavored cheese.

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It’s interesting how firm the cheese remains, even when warm. You definitely need a knife if you serve the Halloumi cheese in strips or slices.

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If you’ve never experienced Halloumi, or bread cheese, I highly suggest giving it a try. It will never replace a good Brie, but it’s not supposed to!